How to Manage Stress for Free in New York City

I had a lot of feelings come up when I moved from Singapore to New York, albeit temporarily. One feeling was insane excitement to be surrounded by the world's BEST (so excited I did a political flash at the Guggenheim). The other was the unhealthy side of excitement—mind fucking FOMO to a degree that I think is only possible in NYC. I wondered if I would be able to bring all my mindfulness learnings from India and Vipassana to a city that moves so fast. I felt at times trapped by the allure of skyscrapers, unable to meditate an hour a day and bummed because I could no longer take six months in India to find inner peace. As a working lady in the fashion industry, my primary reprieve was wine, happy hours and overpriced yoga to relieve stress. Anxious feelings built up in me, largely because of my relationship with control.

While demanding clients, Trump’s unbelievable politics, virus and more are impossible to avoid, what I could control was how I managed my stress and emotional wellness. Some friends are even stressed about being stressed. Let that go, take a breath. I wrote this while there as reminder to myself and to my homies living in the fastlane of life.

Stress Management

Think differently about stress
 A Harvard study cited in the NY Times shows that our bad perceptions of stress effects on health actually increases stress. The common view of stress is that a naughty hormone called cortisol along with adrenaline gets released into our systems and that increases risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and high blood pressure. 

So instead, next time your heart speeds up and your breathing quickens from an upcoming presentation, think of stress as your super power. Your heart is working harder and body is mobilizing energy to get ready for the challenge. Your faster breathing is more oxygen getting to your brain so you can think clearly.  

The Harvard Study informed participants of this practical view of stress before public speaking + a test and found that their performances were significantly higher than those with the typical perceptions. They smiled more, had more confidence and their physiological signs of stress were less pronounced. Embrace your body’s ability to help itself. 

Emotional Wellness 

Breath like a Buddhist
Before Buddhists sit down to meditate they are told to do this simple exercise to put them in the right headspace. Breath in 3 breaths of peace and exhale any worries about the day. Imagine Peter in Hook when he relearns to fly. Breath in happy thoughts and imagine them expanding in your chest and body into lightness. Too often we allow situations that we cannot control in that moment scar our emotional wellbeing and affect us more than it deserves to. This simple practice is great to do in the morning to start your day, on the subway or before or while in a stressful situation. Google’s happiness guru, gives great advice for bringing happiness into each moment, with his ‘thin slices of joy,’ framework.

Mental Alertness

Do Headstands
This is long considered the King of Yoga poses and is used in eastern practices as a way to quickly increase blood circulation to the brain, eliminate drowsiness and for those who are distracted by sex too much, can move your focus up from the lower regions of your body to your mental faculties. The headstand can be done any time and may be held for 15-20 breaths. This is nature’s free energy boost. 

World View

Be Kind to Yourself
Who am I? What's my purpose? Why am I here? Am I doing enough? Will I ever be good enough? are all questions that can haunt our waking mind and once they start, can spin into a crazy vortex that we lose control of and ends up being something like anxiety. In my opinion, examining our worldview or weltanschauung if you want a snobby German word, is probably the most important thing to halt the vortex. One key phrase has helped me calm down in times of stress, "You can only do your best."

Sounds simple, but before a presentation or big pitch I take a second, breathe and all the stuff above and remind myself with a small kind smile that I can only do my best. Whatever, laugh at me, but I swear it helps. It's different for the manic view that we MUST BE THE BEST ALL THE TIME, RAWRRRR, while achieving the same goal.

Be Kind to Others
Vietnamese thinker and monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that for him to live a happier life, it helped to see people with love, even strangers. The Buddhists practice the concept of 'universal love,' meaning that they want to have love and compassion in their hearts for everyone, from the bodega shop owner down the street to your beloved little nephew to a mosquito that is about to bite you. Living life with kindness in our hearts fills us up with the good shit, like smoking weed but like love hormones. It makes us able to handle stress better, eyes shinier, hair glossier, all that love stuff is accessible, according to the Buddhists.

But how to do it in a New York minute? In his book, The Art of Communicating, he recommends a simple practice: Simply say in your mind or out loud to people you cross paths with, 'A flower to you, a Buddha to be.' Imagine you are giving them a flower of happiness, no matter who they are. I swear I tried this, and even on a bad day my hard ass heart would soften as I felt love for my brother men. Sounds cheesy yea? I dunno, give it a try and see if you feel warmth flood your chest. How can your head not exit your ass when you're giving metaphorical flowers to the world??

That's all I have for the moment. Also FYI I'm back in Singapore. If you want to read more about Vipassana in India and how I burnt myself out and rose from the ashes or whatever, check this post on my secret adult blog. Also, do you have tips to surviving stress in a big city? Please share :)